The Perfusionist & Myself

“Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.”-Robert H. Schuller

Recently I attended a “progressive dinner” in my condo building. It sounds like an avant-garde gathering of enlightened neighbors; it was not. It was a Caribbean-style meal, the three courses of which progressed between various residences. And my neighbors were not enlightened, but rather entirely incapable of handling their mojitos.

This evening hardly would have deserved a second thought, let alone a blog, had it not turned out to be the strangest and most perturbing evening of my entire life.

Mere seconds after entering the first condo on the evening’s itinerary, I was approached by a man that seemed to know far more about me than I did him. Before I even had a chance to pour myself a glass of wine, he spoke.

“Do you remember me?”

I scanned the depths of my drunken one-night stand recollections.


Former client? High school acquaintance? Bank employee?

Still nothing.

“I’m sorry, I don’t,” I admitted.

“A few years ago I was out on a run and didn’t have my keys. I asked you to let me into the building, and you said you would. You said you believed that I lived here,” he offered.

“Oh,” I said, confused and irked that I still had no wine.

“Yeah, so I’ve been meaning to find you because I wanted to tell you that I was the perfusionist in your open heart surgery last month,” he blurted.

In my days on Earth, I have found no less than five dead bodies. I discovered the girlfriends of my (ex) husband. In the field of social work, I have borne witness to antics so outrageous, an esteemed fiction writer could not invent anything more unbelievable.

I have had my fair share of shocks.

And still no blow compared to what I felt upon hearing this man’s disclosure. I froze. The conversations around me were far away; someone had poured water and then shoved cotton into my ear.

This man saw the most vulnerable moments of my existence— the moments after I was wheeled into the operating theater for my second open heart surgery but before I was forced into a black abyss from which I could only hope to return.

These were not pretty moments. Tears galloped from my face as my eyes darted from piles of terrifying tools to bizarre-looking machines. All I could see of the people who operated on me were the avoidant eyes that rested between sterile surgical caps and masks. Someone offered to play me soothing ocean sounds while the anesthesiologist inserted arterial lines, but there was no soothing me.

This man saw me naked. He saw my boobs, my ribs and my lungs. He saw my heart. He saw it get sliced. He saw it get stitched. He saw everything I would never want anyone to see.

And he was standing right in front of me.

As my perfusionist, this man was responsible for operating the heart-lung machine. During cardiac surgery, this machine maintains circulation of blood and oxygen to the body while the heart is still and unbeating. This man proceeded to share with me details of my surgery that I had not heard. He said if I saw my surgeon again, I should thank him for saving my life when my pericardium began to bleed out.

In the spirit of the evening, I progressed from one emotion to the next. I excused myself three times to sob in the stairwell before making the decision to just go home. I felt violated, and enraged.

The man had no right to disclose his involvement in my open heart surgery, least of all at a crowded social gathering. He overstepped. His breach was unethical. He infringed upon my emotional and spiritual recovery from the most traumatic event of my adult life.

With a bit of perspective on his transgression, my anger has faded. My recovery has continued. This man’s choice impacted me profoundly, and yet it is not for me to judge his action or his motivations. Life is full of decisions made by others and the often unintended ways they affect those around them.

And when the decision of another comes barreling into a life—an unethical disclosure, a drunk driver, a break-up, a layoff, a suicide—we certainly can choose anger and rage. We can choose pain and suffering. We can choose resentment.

But I choose grace. I choose humility. I choose forgiveness. I choose compassion. And I choose to hold and honor these qualities for both the perfusionist and myself.

4 thoughts on “The Perfusionist & Myself

  1. As a clinical social worker too, he did overstep his boundaries. Maybe they don’t learn those ethical issues in perfusionist school. I live in a fairly small community and when I encounter a past client I wait for them to say something. If they don’t recognize me I never bring it up. Sounds like you are looking at the experience in a positive manner. Love the photo and glad you are recovering well……… P.S. I even tell clients at the first meeting if I see them in public I will not act like I know them unless they approach me first, and to not take offense as it is one of the ways I honor confidentiality. He should take more ethics trainings😲

  2. The profusionist saw your body. Unfortunately he never saw the beautiful spirit that resides there. It is that spirit that lets you forgive, not judge, and move on with your physical recovery. With all of the education and talent that this man has to help repair the human body , he is lacking. As painful as that profound experience at that party was, I guess the word grateful comes to mind. His knowledge helped the surgeon to keep your earthly body functioning so your wonderful spirit is shared with everyone who is blessed to know you. Shine on Beautiful!

  3. This gave me pause. I like your choice of compassion and forgiveness. His intentions seem more obtuse and oblivious, as like with our profession in social work; we can become unaware of the impact our work has on others. Those outside the profession find our work sad and draining and withholding my work day experiences is more appreciated than I realize. He shared his work day experiences not recognizing how traumatic and triggering his perspective of your surgery would be. It’s science to him and sadly I assume in sharing he was hoping for your appreciation….who knows… that is so odd. Awkward he is without question. I’m so sorry you were exposed in a social situation. But still and again—- I like your choice.

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